Onboard Entertainment at the Top of the World

February 26, 2018 Kenton Williston

The Rhaetian Railway’s Bernina Express crosses the Swiss Alps at the highest altitude of any train. The track includes a portion classified as a World Heritage Site that is popular for its gorgeous scenery and historic architecture.

The same panoramic vistas and steep slopes that make the line popular with tourists and travelers also pose a problem. With limited connectivity options, how to communicate to passengers the various historical and geographical features of the landscape?

One feature Rhaetian Railway wanted was the ability to tie its infotainment services to the GPS coordinates of each specific coach along the train. Keeping the solution coach-specific makes it easier to update users on what they’re seeing as they see it, rather than forcing them to account for their own position on the train.

With only limited external connectivity, data needed to be specific to the location of each coach, with support for content in seven languages. To provide these capabilities, Rhaetian Railway deployed the Passengera onboard infotainment platform. Features of the solution include:

  • A separate Advantech ITA 5730 server in each coach, enabling coach-specific infotainment
  • GPS location monitoring of each coach
  • Internet connectivity via GSM (for periodic updates)
  • Support for Intel® VT-X virtualization, which allows third-party applications to be hosted on the Passengera platform.
  • A system built to railway standards, including support for an extended temperature range

The finished system provides passengers with GPS-synchronized movies and documentaries about the World Heritage Site, and offers the option to play location-specific data as the train passes points of interest.

Because the GPS coordinates of each coach are tracked, relevant information plays when the coach passes an appropriate landmark rather than being keyed solely to the position of the engine or run on a prerecorded loop that isn’t synchronized to the train’s location at all.

The service streams over onboard Wi-Fi without requiring passengers to download additional apps or install services to their mobile devices. Customers who opt in to using the service on their mobile devices can view maps with live GPS coordinates for the train, view route and schedule information, additional information about points of interest along the route, and access additional guides and content. This usage data helps Rhaetian Railways improve its customer service, introduce new products, and increase overall revenue.

Although the Bernina Express is a one-of-a-kind experience, the benefits of its infotainment system are widely applicable. By providing passengers with high-quality content and connectivity, rail systems around the world can improve the customer experience—and their bottom line.

About the Author

Kenton Williston

Kenton Williston is the Editor-in-Chief of insight.tech and served as the editor of its predecessor publication, the Embedded Innovator magazine. Kenton received his B.S. in Electrical Engineering in 2000 and has been writing about embedded computing and IoT ever since.

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